As an independent language-learner, I was both apprehensive and excited to be able to take a Korean language class once I entered university last August (2013). Although I took Spanish for over 10 years previously, I had no idea how my abilities in Korean compared with students who took language courses. I had never taken any test, and although Koreans who I spoke with always lauded my Korean, I felt like it was somewhat empty praise. Don’t misunderstand – I’m happy that people are happy that I study Korean; I just wish they didn’t hand down praise so easily when I say just a word or two.
I spoke with my Korean professor who told me not to take the placement test. I was already in the first level along with beginners in the language, most of whom did not yet know hangul. I realized a few weeks later that I really should have taken the exam anyways; I probably could have landed in second year very easily. However, I recognized that my speaking abilities were basically nil, and that I could focus on that and vocab as my goals for improvement.
I don’t blame my professor, either. I know that several other students approached her and said the exact same thing as me – “Oh, I’ve studied some Korean before.” Most of them meant – “I can kind of read hangul.” She found out later, and through my participation in her class, that I had studied for almost 2 years before coming there.
The main problem I found with taking first level rather than passing into second was mainly how slowly it went for me. First semester was so incredibly basic that I only really felt like I improved in counting and speaking slightly more confidently and fluently. There was nothing else new, and I knew almost all of the vocabulary.
Second semester went better, but I had yet to learn a grammar structure that I didn’t already know. Vocabulary started to be half and half with words I knew and words I didn’t know yet. Overall, we covered only 2-3 grammar points that I had never heard before or studied. I definitely improved with speaking, but my progress in everything else remained stagnant.
Looking back over the past academic year, I realize that I made two essential mistakes.
1. If you have studied Korean before, even just a little, I highly recommend testing to ascertain your level before you commit to a class. It may be more challenging to take a higher level class, but overall, isn’t your goal to challenge yourself by becoming fluent in a language?
2. Do not stop or lessen your independent studies. This was definitely my bigger problem. I was used to rapidly advancing through TTMIK lessons and making leaps and bounds with my comprehension of spoken and written Korean, but I spent almost a year of barely studying on my own. I also didn’t study much at all for my actual Korean class because I did so well in it without needing to. It made me lazy with my language studies, and I deeply regret that.
In conclusion, I have decided to never stop my independent studies. It doesn’t matter if I’m taking Korean at my university or even living in Korea and studying there. It’s pure laziness and nonsense to stop studying. I’m not going to magically become fluent by decreasing my studies. Independent studies coupled with other language learning experiences is like adding extra engines to a jet; you’re going to get there even faster if you combine rather than minimize.
Also, I’m not advising you to not take a Korean language course – I’m just advocating that you also continue your independent studies and take a placement test.
Have you ever taken a Korean language class or do you only do independent studies? Or do you combine them? Let me know in the comments about your experience! I’m also curious what it’s like to take placement tests…and TOPIK….
Here’s some lovely music for a lovely day!